Ants, bees, wasps and sawflies
When you mention bee, most people think of honeybees or bumble bees. Few realise that there are just under 250 species of solitary bees, which make up around 93% of all bee species in the UK.
What do they look like?
Ivy bees are a similar shape to honeybees, although their black and yellow stripes are much more defined and seem much brighter. Female ivy bees are slightly larger than males, normally around 13mm long, (males are around 10mm long). Males have notably longer antennae in comparison than females. This species has a dense covering of orange hairs on the front half of its body (thorax and head), with distinct black and yellow stripes on the lower half (the abdomen). If you live in the south of the UK, it is likely that you will see this species collecting pollen from ivy bushes in the Autumn.
Where do they live?
Ivy bees prefer to nest in lightly vegetated areas, such as paths, banks and lawns, as well as roadside verges and golf courses. These bees can often be found nesting in large groups, sometimes containing several thousand nests in one area. They favour south facing banks, so those on light soils could keep vegetation short to encourage this species to nest.
Where can they be found?
The ivy bee is mainly found in the South of the UK, although it is expanding its range northwards.
When can you see them?
Males emerge first, shortly followed by the females, they can be seen flying around from late August to late October, and sometimes at the start of November.
Females emerge from their burrows in late August/early September. At this point the males have already emerged. When females emerge, groups of males will attempt to mate with them. This often results in large bundles of ivy bees that are very impressive to see. Once they have successfully mated, the female will start to dig her burrow and excavate multiple chambers where she lays her eggs. Once she has done this, she begins to collect and store ivy pollen as a food source for the larvae. Adults live for roughly six weeks, during this time they constantly collect pollen and store it in their burrows. After that, the adults die and the eggs will hatch into larvae. Larvae then begin to feed on the pollen stores and grow until they are ready to pupate and become adult ivy bees. They emerge as adults in late August the following year.
What do they do?
Ivy bees feed on and collect the nectar and pollen of ivy. This is why you shouldn’t trim those ivy bushes when they are flowering, as the ivy bee and other species rely on them as a primary food source.
Did you know?
The ivy bee is a latecomer in many ways; they were only described as a new species in 1993, they were first recorded in the UK in 2001, and they are the latest flying solitary bee in the UK.